Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


The Apostle, after having pointed out in the foregoing chapter, the blessings which the Ephesians were enjoying, refers to his own imprisonment then a matter of celebrity throughout the Church—for having preached to the Gentiles; this he did in order to secure for them their present happiness (verse 1). From this he takes occasion to explain more fully the mystery of the vocation of the Gentiles and the divine economy regarding them. He says, that this mystery, regarding their vocation, and their admission to a share of the same blessings with the Jews—a secret hidden from the most knowing in past times—was made known to himself by revelation (3–7). He states, that he was made a minister of the Gospel, through the pure mercy of God, for the purpose of making known to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and the economy of the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and not clearly known even to the angels until it was seen fully carried out in the Church (7–11). He points out one of the advantages resulting from this economy on the fart of God; it is, that the Gentiles as well as the Jews, are, in consequence, inspired with a filial confidence of approaching God, as children approach a father, and this through the mediation of Jesus (12). He next entreats them, after having been so highly favoured, not to grow faint-hearted or remiss on account of his own chains and afflictions in the cause of the Gospel (13).

He, next, suppliantly implores of God to grant them through his Holy Spirit to be strengthened in grace, and to be enabled to persevere in sanctity. He prays that they may be endowed with a knowledge, even in some degree, of the incomprehensible dimensions of the love of God for us, and that thus they may be fully replenished with heavenly gifts (14–19).

He concludes by calling upon the Church, favoured with so many blessings, to render eternal glory to their divine Source and Author.


1. It is for the purpose of securing for you the enjoyment of your present privileges, and their continuance, that I, Paul, (am) become the distinguished captive for the faith of Christ, on account of having preached to the Gentiles, and to you, Ephesians, among the rest.

2. Since you must have heard from me during my three years’ sojourn, how, by divine dispensation, the grace of the Apostleship was granted to me to be exercised amongst you.

3. You must have been made aware, how the great mystery of the vocation of the Gentiles had been made known to me by revelation, as I have briefly written in the preceding chapters.

4. I have not treated the subject in a manner by any means proportioned to the dignity of the mystery; I have only glanced at it briefly, and in such a way as would enable you to perceive from reading it, how far I have penetrated, by the aid of divine revelation, into the knowledge of this great secret of Christ.

5. A secret or mystery which, in past ages, was not made known to the sons of men, to the extent to which it is now revealed by the Holy Ghost to the holy Apostles and Prophets of the New Law.

6. This mystery, with which even the most learned among the ancients were not clearly acquainted, is this, viz., that the Gentiles were to be made co-heirs of the same mystical body, i.e., of the same Church, and joint partners with them, of a great promise of redemption which was to be given through Christ, and promulgated by means of the Gospel.

7. Of which Gospel I am a minister, not through any merits of my own, but owing to the gratuitous gift of God, which has been bestowed upon me, for the purpose of administering it according to the power of God, both in the conversion of the Gentiles and the working of miracles.

8. To me, the least of the least of all Christians, is given this grace to preach among the Gentiles the boundless riches of the blessings bestowed on us through Christ.

9. And also to teach all men and explain to them how admirable is the execution of that secret mystery or decree of his will hitherto concealed from eternity in God, and known to him alone who created all things.

10. Hence it comes to pass, that to the principalities and powers, as well as the other angelic orders, who dwell in the heavens, the wonderful and multifarious wisdom of God, regarding these mysteries of Christ, is now fully and circumstantially made known, whilst they are fully accomplished in the Church.

11. This multifarious wisdom, which has been made known in all its circumstances to the angels, was in accordance with the eternal decree which God made from eternity, regarding future ages, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ.

12. In whose name we have a freedom of communication with God, and a freedom of access to him in confidence, not in fear, and this through faith which teaches all regarding Jesus, calculated to inspire this confidence, viz., that he is our mediator and intercessor with the Father.

13. Since, then, such is your dignity, such the privileges bestowed on you in accordance with God’s eternal and wise decree, I pray you not to grow remiss or faint-hearted in consequence of the chains and afflictions which I endure on account of preaching to you the gospel; for these afflictions are a subject of glory to you, since they are the stigmata of Christ in me; and hence, a matter of glory for you, that your Apostle should so suffer for Christ.

14. In order that you may persevere, and not fall away, owing to any feelings of despondence arising from my sufferings for you, I bend my knees, and humbly and reverently implore the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

15. From whom is derived all paternity in heaven or earth, i.e., from whom, as Father, every family, whether of angels in heaven or of men on earth, derives its orign,

16. To grant you, according to the abundance of his mercy, and beneficence in which he glories, to be strengthened and confirmed in his powerful grace by the Holy Spirit, that your interior and spiritual progress may increase more and more every day.

17. To grant you also that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; and that your charity may be firm and everlasting.

18. That you may be able in some measure to comprehend with all Christians for whom I pray, the same things, the dimensions of the magnitude of the divine goodness in the mysteries of human redemption and of the vocation of the Gentiles.

19. And that you may also know and value, as far as human imperfection will permit, the charity of Christ, which far exceeds all human thought or comprehension, so that you may be replenished with divine love and knowledge, and with a plenitude of all spiritual blessings.

20. But to him who, by the power of his grace, which we daily experience working in us, is able to do all things superabundantly, even beyond what we ask or conceive:

21. To him, I say, be rendered eternal glory in the Church, which he has enriched with so many blessings, and that through Christ Jesus, for ever and ever. Amen.


1. “For this cause,” i.e., in order that you should be “fellow-citizens with the saints.” “The house of God,” &c. “I, Paul, (am) the prisoner,” the celebrated captive for Christ. The construction which supplies the verb, am, seems preferable to that adopted by many eminent interpreters; among the rest, by Estius and A’Lapide, who connect the words of this verse, “I, Paul,” with verse 14, “bow my knees to the Father,” &c., the intervening verse being included in a parenthesis. The arrangement in the Paraphrase is the more simple; it also makes the passage more intelligible. Nor does the article prefixed in the Greek to the word “prisoner,” ὁ δεσμιος, present any difficulty to this construction; for, it only denotes the celebrity of his chains, and it appears that the chains and imprisonment of the Apostle were a matter then celebrated all over the Church.

2. “If yet.” The Greek of which, ειγε, may also be rendered since, or, whereas, The words make good sense in our construction, thus: “if yet you have heard (as indeed you must have heard) of the dispensation, &c.” This has the same meaning as the other construction. Dispensation, in Greek, οικονομιαν means the economy exercised in the administration of domestic affairs. Hence the passage signifies, you must have been aware, that the great Father of the human family, who portions out their respective offices among his servants, has confided to me the office of apostleship to be exercised amongst you.

3. “The mystery” refers to the vocation of the Gentiles, to be “fellow-heirs,” &c. (verse 6), and also to his own mission to preach the gospel amongst them. “The words you have heard,” (verse 2), are to be repeated in explaining this verse, thus: “you have heard, how that according to revelation,” &c., “above written in a few words,” he merely glanced at this subject in the preceding chapters. “Has been made known to me.” For which the common Greek reading is, εγνωρισε, he hath made known to me. The Vulgate reading, εγνωρισθη, is, however, better supported by ancient authorities.

4. “May understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ,” may either mean (as in Paraphrase), that you may perceive that the knowledge of the mystery was revealed to me; or, that you may perceive the same things which I know from revelation; so that the things known to me would be known to you also. This latter interpretation accords better with the Greek, although the former is more simple. The words prudence, wisdom, science, knowledge, are frequently employed by the Apostle to denote the same thing.

5. The mystery in question is the vocation of the Gentiles and their union with the Jews in the one body of the Church, &c., as in verse 6. This mystery was not made “known to the sons of men” in past times.

But, did not the prophets of old predict it? Must it not, therefore, have been known to them? Yes: the prophets of old, in consequence of having predicted it, must have known the substance of it; but still, they knew it only in an obscure, general way; they were ignorant, however, of the several circumstances of time, place, &c., which God revealed to the Apostles by the Holy Ghost. The “prophets” manifestly refer to those of the New Law.

6. “And co-partners of his promise.” The “promise” referred to is, that made to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” in which are comprised all the blessings of the New Law, briefly expressed by the name of blessings of grace and glory. “In Christ Jesus by the gospel;” “Jesus” is omitted in the ordinary Greek. It is, however, read in the Codex Vaticanus.

7. He explains how it is that he is a minister of the Gospel, not through any merits of his own, but through the gratuitous donation of God, “according to the operation of his power.” This power is manifested in the success of the Apostle’s mission in converting the Pagans, and also in the working of miracles.

8. “To me, the least of all the saints.” The word for least, ελαχιστοτερω, is a comparative formed on a superlative, and means, the least of the least. The Apostle, after recounting the favours bestowed on him by God, recurs to his own unworthiness in terms of the most profound humility. He calls himself the most unworthy of the unworthy among Christians. It was one of the uniform maxims of the saints, that if the greatest sinners received the graces with which they themselves were favoured, they might be more worthy. Of course, all these sentiments of humility are true, if we abstract from the grace of God, and consider ourselves merely.

9. “The dispensation of the mystery” may also refer to the eternal wisdom of God, planning the secret; so that it may be taken to refer to the mystery in the mind of God. In the Paraphrase, it is referred to the execution and actual accomplishment of the decree, “from eternity,” απο τῶν αἰώνων, a sæculis “who created all things,” and in the Greek are added the words, by Jesus Christ. By Christ all things were created. This refutes the errors of the Gnostics, who maintained that this world was created by the angels. The words, by Jesus Christ, are, however, rejected by critics, as devoid of support from ancient manuscripts.

10. Some understand by the “principalities and powers,” the good and bad angels; for, the bad angels who retained the name of principalities, &c., after their fall, are said also “to dwell in high places.”—(6:12). It is better, however, restrict them to the good angels, all of whom are represented in the two orders just mentioned.

But did not the angels know all this, since it was through them that God imparted the knowledge of these things to the ancient prophets?

Yes, like the prophets themselves (verse 5), they knew them in a general, obscure manner; but it was only when this economy was wonderfully executed in the Church that they knew matters fully and circumstantially, “through the Church,” i.e., they were made known by their wonderful accomplishment in the Church in which they were displayed.

11. “According to the eternal purpose,” in Greek, κατα προθεσιν των αιωνων (according to the purpose of ages), “which he made in Christ Jesus,” &c. The words, “he made,” may be also understood of the execution of this decree in time, thus: which purpose he executed in time, through Christ Jesus. The Paraphrase makes it regard the passing of the decree from eternity.

12. “Boldness” means freedom of address and communication, “by the faith of him;” faith is the source of this confidence, since it is by faith we are taught regarding Jesus, that he is our mediator, &c., a fact calculated to inspire this confidence.

13. “Your glory,” ὑμῶν δοξα. These sufferings are the stigmata of Christ in me, the prelude to my martyrdom; and hence, a subject of glory to you, that your Apostle is accounted worthy, &c. (vide Paraphrase); or, they are “your glory,” as being attestations of my sincerity, in preaching the gospel to you; and hence, a source of glory to you, to have been converted by so sincere and devoted an Apostle.

14. Many able Commentators include the entire passsge from this to the first verse of this chapter within a parenthesis, and connect this verse immediately with verse 1. “For this cause, I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, for you Gentiles”—(5:1) “bow my knees,” &c—(verse 14). The connection adopted in the Paraphrase supposes the verb “I am,” to be understood in verse 1, so that the words “for this cause,” in verse 1 and verse 14, refer to different things; in verse (1) in the preceding chapter, and in verse (14) to the perseverance of the Ephesians. And this opinion is rendered still more probable, if we look to the object of his petition in the following verses, being the same which he expresses a fear of their losing—(verse 13). “Of our Lord Jesus Christ.” These words are wanting in the chief MSS., and St. Jerome did not consider them genuine.

15. This is said by the Apostle for the purpose of confounding the heretics of the day, included under the general denomination of Gnostics, who maintained that there were many principles of existence besides the Supreme Being.

16. “Into the inward man,” so that your interior man, illumined by grace, and acting up to the principles of faith, may become every day more and more strong and robust.

17. “By faith;” faith being the foundation of all Christian virtues, “rooted and founded in charity.” He wishes to convey an idea of the unshaken firmness of the charity, for which he prays on their behalf, by comparing it to a tree, the roots of which are firmly shot into the earth, or to an edifice, built on a firm foundation. The words “rooted and founded in charity,” are connected by some with the following verse, as in our English version. It seems better, however, to connect them with the preceding (as in Paraphrase).

18. “The length, breadth,” &c., are put down for the measures of magnitude, they are the dimensions by which magnitude is measured; hence, the verse means, that you may be able in some measure, and as far as is given to human weakness, to comprehend and value the excessive goodness of God, in the mysteries of redemption and in calling the Gentiles. It is likely that the Apostle uses the words “breadth, length,” &c., in allusion to the errors of the Gnostic heretics, respecting the different Eons. These heretics understood by “breadth, length,” &c., the plerōma in which these beings were contained. He applies to Christ, what they had been applying and attributing to their different imaginary beings, and insinuates that all their supposed perfections were really united in him.

19. “That you may be filled unto all the fulness of God,” ἵνα πληρωθητε εις παν το πληρωμα τοῦ θεου, for which we have in the Codex Vaticanus, ἵνα πληρωθη παν το πληρωμα τοῦ θεοῦ. “that all the fulness of God. may be filled in you.” This is manifestly allusive to the plerōma in the system of the Gnostics. As if the Apostle meant to say, Christ is the plerōma of Christians; in Him is contained the entire Divinity; in Him are eminently contained all the most exalted spiritual and intellectual beings. He is the great source and fountain of all blessings.

For an admirable dissertation on the words, “length,” “breadth,” “height,” “depth,” see Hay’s “Devout Christian,” chap 3. In the dissertation referred to, “the breadth” of divine love is understood of the excessive magnitude of the benefits which God bestows on us here, and has in store for us hereafter; “the length,” of their eternal duration; “the height,” of the sublimity and exalted nature of the same benefits, particularly in the order of grace, in which we are “made partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and receive a new spiritual being; and “the depth,” of the sincerity and disinterestedness displayed in God’s favours. He is our God—we are his creatures; his happiness is independent of our happiness or misery. O God! inspire us with due feelings of gratitude; may we be ever mindful of Thy infinite goodness to us.

20. The Apostle himself, replenished with that fulness of divine gifts which he wishes for others, bursts forth into the praises of God, who, he says, is able to do more than we can ask for or understand, as appears from the gifts of grace which he bestows on us, and the power with which he has vested us, beyond all our hopes or expectation.

21. “To him be glory in the Church,” favoured with so many blessings, and which is to last for ever; through Jesus Christ, its head, and our mediator, the source of all our benedictions, through whom, therefore, we should return thanks to God. Hence, it is, we find that the Church terminates all her solemn prayers by the words, “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” &c. Per Dominum nostrum, Jesum Christum Filium tuum, &c.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com